Is it time to go shopping? Need the perfect gift for someone who loves to read but already has all the books? I’ve gone shopping for you!
Honor their need for words with this baker’s dozen list of best gifts for book lovers and get them some literary loot. They’re all from Amazon because that’s where I’ve been hanging out for the last year. If you make a purchase from one of the links below, I’ll get an affiliate commission. It doesn’t change the price for you. But it lets the Zon show me a little love. Smiles guaranteed.
If you climb a mountain to talk to God, you’d best be prepared for Him to talk back.
“Sit and stay a while,” He’ll say. “Get comfortable.”
With a backward glance over my shoulder, I can see that my writing career has been anything but a straight line. One year in, it most resembles mountain climbing. Lots of crashing through the underbrush and scaling boulders. The occasional rattlesnake scare.
It’s been an adventure and so much fun that I forget to stop every little while and check my compass.
Today, I want you to meet a new author friend, Joanne Bischof. I discovered her in the usual way: crashing through the internet looking for authors who write historical fiction. Her name flew by, and after a couple of curious clicks, I became a fan. One of her books was in my hands, muy pronto.
We had some things in common.
She writes female protagonist, historical fiction, pioneer American, turn of the century, tiny mountaintop…inspirational romance.
And then I discovered she lives…in actual Idyllwild. Hm. I was going to live in Idyllwild for an entire week at the end of July for our yearly family Bible camp. Coincidence? I think not.
I did something I never do. I emailed a complete stranger and asked if she wanted to meet for coffee and talk writing.
And she said yes.
It percolated in the back of my mind all week during camp, this Friday afternoon coffee meet up. How should I present myself? Could I ask all my questions without taking notes? What if I was too intimidated to ask anything at all? What if she asked me something I didn’t know? Like my name?
Joanne met me at the coffee shop, and we introduced ourselves while we waited for our order. Outside, the sky grew dark and began to spit. Rejoicing in the possibility of rain, we took seats on the veranda at the rail and started talking.
You, gentle reader, already understand the lovely idea of a summer storm in Idyllwild. And its implications.
The wind gusted a bit as we discovered almost immediately that she worked at the very camp I’d been staying at all week. That we’d been together all along, incognito.
The rain began as Joanne told me about a new book she was releasing in August.
Lightning streaked overhead and thunder boomed as I admitted to a new book I had released in July.
“Mine is set in Idyllwild,” she said as the hail began. We dragged our chairs away from the rail.
“Mine, too,” I said. “It has, um, it’s called Summer Storm.” The heavens opened. The streets began to flood.
“I had to do a lot of research for it during Covid,” Joanne said. “On this area, on 1902, on the Cahuilla, on the first settlers. Hard to do when you’re trapped at your desk.”
“Oh, boy.” I took a long sip of latte. Gutters overflowed.
“Did you know there are a couple of abandoned gold mines up here?” she asked.
This is when we moved our chairs up against the building and the wind blew so hard we were getting wet, anyway. Our coffee date had passed its polite expiration, but we were trapped at the coffee shop by a storm that raged for two hours solid before easing up. Plenty of time to ask all the questions, exchange all the stories, and for the shocking amount of coincidences to soak in.
Because, of course, I’d just had a week of classes to remind me that there are no coincidences. I took the opportunity to reset my writing compass to true North. Reminded myself to see the forest instead of constantly running into trees in my haste. She showed me a gentler way to author.
When it was finally safe to swim to our cars, Joanne promised me an advance copy of her new release, The Gold in These Hills. It arrived today and I’m passing the excitement forward and giving it away to a lucky blog subscriber!
Visit Joanne on her website anytime, enjoy one of her videos here, and follow her on all the things.
To enter a drawing for this copy of her new book, drop a random fun fact from one of my books in the comment box below. You know, like the name of the mine where Red lives. Or something. Ahem.
Entries accepted through September 9th at midnight and I will announce the winner in the newsletter on September 23rd. (You do get my newsletter, do you not?) Winners must provide a continental USA mailing address to claim the prize.
It’s National Library Week, and this picture makes me happy.
What? It appears utterly common, downright drab, and blends in with the native wildlife? Every mystic portal does, my deary. Only those with the gift of imagination know better and enter on tiptoe. There are aisles full of magic spells, swirling colors, acrobats. Dragons and race cars and music. Open a cover, turn a page, and you will disappear.
Turn right, and a keeper of words will tell you exactly where the unicorns are hidden. Turn left, and you will find a room where words can be taken home forever. Move forward fifty paces and unearth that one 80’s movie you can never find on Hulu.
But. If you take forty paces north by northwest and turn left at the yellow arrow, you’ll discover a treasure trove full of books marked with a purple “E”. Brace yourself.
Meet the lovely Azar Katouzian, the Principal Librarian at the Escondido Public Library who graciously hosted me as the guest author for this month’s writer’s group. It was a pleasure speaking with them about the creation of my Loveda Brown series and encouraging everyone to write on. In conjunction with the event, I donated copies of my books to their collection. I’ve always believed that books are meant to circulate, and when you’ve finished mine, I hope you pass the books on to more friends who love to read or donate them to your local library.
In addition, I now have a page of Resources for Writers on this website that brings all the articles, videos, podcasts, and groups together in one place. These are hubs of information that all authors can utilize. If you’re trying to get your writing projects to the next level, explore this tool box.
Meanwhile, as I was feeling some library nostalgia after my presentation, I ordered some swag for my office wall: a fun poster from the ALA Store. You’ll never guess which one I chose.
It’s been a while since our last giveaway! To get your name in a drawing for a free signed copy of Loveda Brown Comes Home, drop the name of the book you’re reading right now into the comment box below!
I love me a good reading challenge. I raised my fabulous five surrounded by books and, so far as I can tell, I think it’s done them well. The youngest is a tender twenty years old and can figure out the letters they put into math and occasionally spouts the Greek at me across the kitchen, just to make me shiver.
The alphabet. Don’t underestimate it.
We’ve graduated from the good old days when kids had nothing better to do during the long lazy months of summer but chase chickens around the backyard, annoy ant hills with a magnifying glass, or walk with the fam two blocks south for a visit to the public library. The attraction had as much to do with the free air conditioning as it did with seeing how many borrowed books we could squeeze into our little red wagon.
Every summer, the library held a Reading Challenge for kids. And we knocked it out of the ballpark. The kids still have medals to prove it. Perhaps the idea of a reading competition feels as exciting as watching grass grow or—follow me here—a golf tournament. But as my third child would say, you are a bucket of wrong.
And there comes a time when a mom can no longer live vicariously through her children.
The idea is to set yourself the goal of reading “X” amount of books during the calendar year and then, as you finish each one, you post it to your list along with a review if you so choose. Not just for a summer…for an entire year!
Come here, Goodreads.
First, I had to throw a huge backlist together of my favorite books that I’d already read (possibly multiple times) and it keeps me up at night, knowing I’ve missed actual thousands of titles because I was too chicken to post the kid books. I’d love for you to think my reading list is classy and intellectual, but I love “Where the Wild Things Are” and Ezra Jack Keats and every single Nancy Drew ever written, even though Caroline Keene is a lie and our relationship has been strained at best, ever since she came clean.
After posting the backlist, I had to remember what I read last year and hurt myself trying. It’s mostly accurate. But a goal for this year? I took a step back and made the rational decision that a book a month felt healthy. I do have a full-time job writing, but after all, I’m also in a real live Book Club. If I read nothing else, I can post the dozen current books that these hip and happenin’ ladies put in my path. Right?
I’m supposed to be halfway through “A Million Steps” by Kurt Koontz. Instead, I’ve hidden under the covers at night and binge-read Sue Grafton. My secret goal for the Reading Challenge is to get all the way through her alphabet before the Book Club catches on to me and I get the boot.
This is how my kids got into trouble at school, reading fiction under their desk instead of their math book sitting on top. I suppose that explains my twenty-year-old, though.
I read “Migrations” by Charlotte McConaghy like a good girl, and it gutted me entirely. I don’t know if I can handle that level of emotional shipwreck every month. I mean, I’m already doing that with menopause.
Last week, I posted “F is for Fugitive” on Goodreads. I’m claiming every page. Kinsey Millhone is steady, predictable, and teaching me about my own craft. It annoyed me that she didn’t describe herself until page fourteen and then said her hair was “dark”. Dark? Like brunette? Black? Mahogany? Glints of red or blue in the direct sun? Sure, it’s good enough to use those details on the suspects, but we readers need foundational reference. If you don’t tell me, I will make it up, Kinsey!
But that’s not the kind of stuff you post on Goodreads. You have to say things like, “Delicate and fresh, very soft tannins with fruity aromas. A little vivid for my taste, but overall well balanced and smooth on the palate.”
I will keep my opinions to the blog and keep my enormous pile of TBR books in the little red wagon next to the bed.
It’s full of the alphabet, G through Y, with a couple of Kiplings, a secret Madeleine L’Engle, a Shel Silverstein side wall, a bottom layer of JK Rowling, a mix of CS Lewis and EB White, random Janet Evanovich numbers, and a flashlight.
Salutations favorite peeps! My incredibly good mood this morning could be blamed on several things. September is finally here and my anticipation of snuggly sweaters, flamboyant scarves, and leather boots is entirely too optimistic but is undeniably arrived. I am at the bottom of my first perfect cup of tea for the day. And I managed to stack up a total of five dead bodies last month.
I wasn’t that kid in middle school who could work a Rubik’s Cube. It crossed my eyes and when no one was looking, I peeled the little stickers off and pasted them back together on each side because my OCD was off the charts, seeing those colored squares out of place. I spent all of high school drama practice learning to french braid my own hair. It’s like underwater basket weaving, blind folded. These things can be done, but you have to access whole other parts of your brain to attempt them.
And I only have so much brain.
My official first Murder Mystery is accomplished, is what I’m trying to tell you, and writing it felt exactly like riding Mr Toad’s Wild Ride while attempting to french braid my curly hair and recite the alphabet backwards. There was a lot of lurching and laughing but also occasional shrieks.
The plot involves a fresh heroine, Loveda Brown, who races into the tiny town of Idyllwild, California in the Year of Our Lord 1912 and much mayhem and murder and mistaken identities occur. Technically classified as both a “historical” and a “cozy”, you won’t find violence or grisly bits on the pages but you will find humor and small town relationships because I am absolutely making this into a series. Hopefully, at least the first two will be available by Halloween. That just feels logical.
If you like things that go bump in the night, drop me a comment here. Let me know if you want to be on my list of super-sneaky, sworn-to-secrecy beta readers, the peeps who read my drafts and tell me which parts require tightening up. Like a noose. I’m currently taking auditions for my next villain and he or she must be willing to kill for all the right reasons and clever enough to get away with it. Tell me about your fave mystery, whether it’s a book, TV show, movie, or pandemic conspiracy theory. Some day, you might even find your name in one of my books.
Dead or alive.
Click this image to read the first chapter of “The Great Loveda Brown”.
If you want to keep up with the books and when they launch, subscribe to the Newsletter here:
There came a moment in the spring of 2020 when all of the planet took a time-out. In this sabbath hush, the earth could be heard breathing. In order to better hear it, everyone stepped outside and walked the dusty soil, admired her fragile blue-green beauty, felt her pulse, and embraced all humanity as family.
Okay. It may have been a tadsy bit difficult to continue our faith in humanity. To trust that others will also think of others. To believe that tiny gestures of faith can change the world.
Here in San Diego, I discovered evidence that many gave it a go. And I salute them.
We are blessed to live next to some fabulous hiking trails and we wander them almost daily. A favorite walk of mine is a nice, flat 5K that is wide enough to let me take evasive action if I see snakes or non-mask wearing humans. Hubby always wants to hike in new different directions. He says he is bored with the same old gorgeous view and needs a fresh one. He wants to walk the wild side and go uphill. As if life wasn’t already uphill both ways in four feet of snow.
And so, my favorite walk, in imminent jeopardy of becoming “boring”, was saved when the art began to appear. Paintings left along the path, mysteriously detailed on rocks. And just as mysteriously, disappearing again. I was fascinated and had I not taken photos, would not have proof they were there. It was like discovering my own whimsical outdoor art gallery and it brought a smile to my face every time I uncovered one.
Turns out, these little gems were shifting around on purpose. Just like a Bible school project I’d covered in a newsletter last year, they were part of a larger movement where rocks are painted and then left for people to find and hide again as way to inspire communities with random acts of kindness, like rainbows or teddy bears in the windows did.
It’s a shame they had to move, though. I’m sure the art was relocated to another trail to inspire the next person. Ahem.
So it works, people. But they are gone and nothing has replaced them, and I wonder whether you would be interested in painting a few for me? I have two left thumbs but I sat down and made a couple of little trail buddies, although everyone knows I am not to be trusted with paint. Or glue. Or glitter. It mostly stayed on my hands…
Help a girl out. Let’s change the world.
If I can do it, anyone can!
I could attempt this abstract. I’m calling it “The Purple People Eater”.
Oh. My. Word. Cuteness.
A classic, with a message for our times. There are a lot of unsung heroes among us.
Mandala, inspiration for intentional, thoughtful steps forward.
My spirit rock. Inspires automatic social distancing while maintaining a sense of humor.
Alright, who invited the Canadian??
The strawberry is what’s left of an entire fruit salad, which was my favorite. There was also a hotdog here at one point. Hard not to reach for these treats!
This one I call, “Sally Sweet”, portrait of a tough gal full of vision and endurance who carries the sunshine with her. Be like Sally.
A long time ago (beginning of March), in a galaxy far away (across town), I made a run to Costco (Ground Zero). This is usually Hubby’s job but my super efficient self had to get gas anyway. I pulled into a front row parking spot that sunny morning, congratulating myself on arriving before opening hour and turned on the radio for a rare five minutes of relaxation. I thought it was odd to see a crowd gathered near the warehouse doors on a Tuesday, but with Costco you never know. I shrugged a couple of minutes later, gathered my shopping list and headed over to stand with the happy campers and stare at the rollup doors the way my cat stares down a can of tuna.
The woman closest to me gave me funny look. Not a happy one. Like maybe my fly was down or I had mustard on my face. I looked around and realized that she was the line leader for everyone there. Behind her stretched a trail of people gripping empty shopping carts down the entire length of the building. Huh? Since when does everyone get in line? Costco is famous for the wide open cattle range that it is. Every man for himself. It works.
Not on her watch.
I glanced to my left and a gentleman stood there with an amused smirk and crossed arms and I copied him and got myself comfortable. People are weird.
“I’m not getting in line,” I told him. “There’s enough stuff for an army in there, what’s the rush?”
At opening time, another amazing thing happened. From the exit door, three employees walked out and, facing the line of customers, held up their cell phones and began to shoot video. They shook their heads in disbelief as the line began to move into the bowels of the store. The employee who opened the door began calling out to the passing people, “Take your time, folks, there’s plenty for everyone. Be polite, please. Thank you for staying calm.”
What in the world? It must be quite a sale. Too bad whatever it was wasn’t on my list.
With one raised eyebrow, I followed the last of the line into the store. No. That’s not true. I waited for the end of the line to show up and it didn’t. The whole parking lot was migrating towards me now, so I just waved my card and conducted business as usual. All aboard.
I zipped up the sidelines where no shoppers ever linger. I’m no amateur. Tossed the goods into my cart without skipping a beat, which is how I always shop. Get in. Get out. Tea time.
I came skidding around a corner five minutes later, halfway done, and darned if the line was still in formation and stretched in the opposite direction, the length of the warehouse. Perfectly serious faces, perfectly empty carts.
“Excuse me,” I mumbled at the line. I was monitored from all directions as they let me through.
“Get some more troopers back there,” an employee hissed into his walkie, scuttling by.
I craned my neck in a brief attempt to understand when Karen plowed triumphantly by, her cart full to overflowing with…toilet paper. If you are unfamiliar with a Costco-sized package of toilet paper, just know that it takes only two to prevent all further items going into your cart. These tissue towers won’t even fit under the cart. Karen had three and the front basket where the babies go was stacked with sanitizing hand wipes. The look on her face implied she was only warming up, but where was she going to put her groceries? Down her bra?
The next man went by with a Jenga-worthy stack in his cart and I heard him say, to no one in particular, “I own a business.” His tone was defensive.
Then a little old lady passed me and saw my shocked face. She only had a single plushie in her cart but said apologetically, “Well, I don’t really need any but if this is the way things are going, I may as well get me some now.”
I had no clue what was going on. I did not get this memo. I was a little freaked out.
I flung the rest of my groceries into the cart and dashed to the check-out where I had the place to myself. That alone is a creepy experience. The clerk behind the beep beep machine wore a resigned look. One braced for the inevitable. Long suffering and just a bit in shock.
“What?” she said, scanning items, “no toilet paper?” I gripped my cart in an effort to remain calm. Was I making a terrible mistake?
“What’s happening?” I asked her under my breath, not sure I wanted to know.
She stopped scanning and just stared at me. There was no one else in line. She leaned forward and said, “Well, I’ll tell you. Last week, three of our trucks were stalled out east due to bad weather. Happens all the time. These just happened to contain our toilet paper. So, for a couple of days, there was a big empty space where it goes.” She stood taller. “It’s not like we weren’t going to get it any minute, we had to keep the space open.”
I thought for a beat. Costco never has empty spaces. Product is continually shifted to maximize sales.
“Anyway,” she continued, as she swiped my items from left to right, “A rumor went around that there was a shortage. So when the trucks finally arrived, there was a run on it.” She paused. “I get it if people were out but I mean, you can buy the stuff anywhere. We all decided they must just love our brand or whatever, but it’s happened every single day since. Cleaned out faster than we can put more on the pallets. No reason why. We have plenty. We won’t run out.”
She looked towards the cattle drive and shook her head. “Do you need boxes today?”
I declined her offer, thanked her, and bolted.
I was almost to my car and a lady went by and laughed, “What? Where’s your toilet paper?”
I was prevented from replying because three different cars were inches from my body, poised to take my spot as soon as I pulled out. The parking lot resembled Disneyland on a get-in-free day. A steady surge of humanity kept flowing into the warehouse, trapped in the toilet paper tractor beam.
At this point, you have to know some things. One, I did not in any way need toilet paper. And two, I was contemplating unloading my groceries into my car and going back for some because I didn’t want to get left behind. I felt deprived, anxious, needy, and fearful of the future.
“What if? What if?” asked my mother’s voice.
“Well,“ I answered, “if we need some, we’ll buy it at the 7-11 on the corner. If the planet runs out, squirt bottles for everybody.” It was time to go home.
“Ewww,” said the voice.
“The Europeans are way ahead of us as it is. Hush.” I sat in the car and took a nice deep breath. “And if we didn’t need any, then everyone here is going to feel a bit silly a month from now.”
So far, this year has been the strangest ever and I find myself doing absurd things and passing them off as normal. For example: I have a kitten now.
Pre-pandemic saw me pet-free for a solid twenty years. Why have animals when you have five kids, amiright? Post-pandemic finds me desperate to keep those kids somehow occupied long enough for me to throw a frozen pizza into the oven and open a bottle of pinot grigio. Do NOT talk to me about how these kids are in their twenties. Some things never change.
The kitten was an impulsive decision made in a fifteen minute window wherein I was not thinking clearly but I have to admit, my kids are flocking around this little fluff ball and our long afternoons are now filled with entertaining shouts of, “Look out, it’s crawling under the dresser!” “What’s that in the litter box?” and “Is it supposed to claw my hand into shreds while it drinks the bottle?”
I’m sure I’m not alone when I ask the question: What was the right pet for our family? And is it too late?
If you, too, are feeling like 2020 is the perfect year to bring a new pet into your home, take this handy quiz to discover if you are crazy which pet is your purr-fect pandemic partner.